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from Hiren's Journey by Rebecca Onkar

Chapter 4
The Long Walk

It was only a short walk to Abel’s shop but it felt like a hundred miles to Bram. He could feel the eyes of all of King’s Port upon him and he didn’t like it. For a man who had spent most of his life unnoticed it was terribly uncomfortable to suddenly become the object of attention and speculation.

It was the speculation that he liked least of all. He fought an urge to turn and shout at the spectators that he had saved this girl from just the sort of lifestyle that they were at this very moment imagining.

Of course Bram would do or say no such thing; his boldness earlier in the day at the auction still fresh in his mind and he was not ready to make a spectacle of himself again so soon.
With his thoughts elsewhere Bram barely noticed that his new companion had started to lag behind. At last, Bram looked over his shoulder and saw her hurrying to catch up. He was relieved to see she had not run away. In fact, he had already begun to feel protective toward this small foreign child. Odd, he thought as he paused to allow her to catch up.

Looking at her as he waited for her to join him he realized that she was limping, or at least walking strangely. He looked toward her feet and saw her toes peeking out from under her filthy skirt. She wore no foot coverings. He hadn’t noticed it when they left the dock; she had walked all this way on the rocky, burning streets without shoes. No wonder she was lagging behind.

He was a little perturbed that she hadn’t tried to show him that she was shoeless from the start, but he was more perturbed at himself for being so caught up in his own head that he hadn’t even noticed the poor child was struggling to walk. Bram gestured toward a shady area where the ground was cooler and he stooped to take a look at her feet.

Every time he went to move aside the bottom of her skirt so that he could examine her feet she would skip backward and press her hands down on to her skirt to deny him access. After foiling three attempts by Bram to look at her feet, she was finally backed up against the brick wall of Hawkin’s Tannery.

Relieved that she had nowhere to go this time, Bram once again reached to lift her skirt bottom, and as he grasped it he heard her let out a noise like “huhh.” It was the first sound she had made since she’d been in his presence and it caused him to drop her skirt and look up at her. He was stunned to see terror in her eyes and written all over her face. Her mouth was hanging open and her chest was heaving. “The girl thinks I’m going to rape her right here,” Bram realized with a start.

He quickly stood to his feet and walked a few steps away from her and started to shake his head no. His horror was nearly as great as the girl’s fear. For a few moments they just stared at one another. Then Bram started to gesture forcefully at his own foot. He pantomimed limping and then lifted his foot as if to examine what was causing the limp. Then he pointed to the girl’s own feet and once again lifted his own foot in an attempt to communicate his previous actions to her.

At last the fear started to ebb from her face and Bram was caught in a dilemma. If he were to attempt to look at her foot again, he may permanently lose the ground he had just made with her and her terror may return. Yet if he were to ignore her injured feet how were they to ever make it to Abel’s? He was too gentle a soul to knowingly cause her pain.

As Bram contemplated his next move he heard the sound of someone clearing their throat and then, “Excuse me, young man.”

Bram turned toward the sound of the voice. Before him stood a wrinkled little woman. Stooped with age she barely reached his elbow. Her head was covered with a stiff white cap. Peeking out from under it were wisps of thinning, white, wavy hair. Her eyes smiled as she looked up at him although the expression on her face was serious.

“May I be of some assistance?” she said.

“Ma’am?” Bram finally squeezed out.

“My son owns this here tannery,” she said gesturing over her shoulder. “I come on by every day to pass the time. Been watching you standing in the middle of the street going on five minutes now. Son, you look as if you&rs...

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